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Editor's note: This is an abridged version of an article on the AACC 21st-Century Center.
As pressure mounts to improve college completion rates, community colleges are looking for solutions to an age-old problem: how to keep students from dropping out once they enroll.
North Carolina's Southwest Community College is keeping students engaged through a program that relies on the input of its most trusted resource: faculty. Called Retention Action Committees, or RATs, the organized groups, which began as a cost-cutting measure, were the brainchild of Thom Brooks, vice president of instruction and student learning for the college.
Knowing the college didn’t have the budget to outsource retention efforts, Brooks turned instead to passionate faculty who recognized there was a problem and could identify ways to keep students engaged.
“We really had to roll up our sleeves and start eating the elephant one bite at a time,” Brooks says.
Rather than rely on the input of larger leadership committees, Brooks decided to break the team out into smaller, more agile taskforces. These taskforces were charged with meeting specific goals, part of a multi-faceted strategy designed to tackle nearly every aspect of student retention.
Engage students, faculty in completion agenda
Among the first tangible changes initiated by the RATs was reviving an older idea — a student success course, which the college decided to make mandatory for first-year students. The program was designed to orient students beyond the standard tour of the campus and its facilities. Rather, Brooks says, it lays a foundation for good studying habits and academic planning.
Once orientation is complete, the focus shifts to keep students engaged and on a clear path to success.
A new retention alert process notifies faculty when academic and behavioral concerns arise. Now, faculty can intervene and provide support before students drop out.
In it together
It wasn’t long before word began to spread that the college was committed to making changes.
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“Folks quickly recognized that we were serious about it,” Brooks says. Faculty saw that they had a say and that their input could help change the culture of the institution.
Soon other faculty joined the movement. The college now has 13 different RATs. Demand was so high that Brooks was forced to place an eight-person cap on each team.
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What does AACC's 21st-Century implemenation guide say about the role of faculty? Read Recommendation 4 in "Empowering Community Colleges To Build the Nation's Future."
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